The end of Christmas on Sunday, the beginning of Lent on Wednesday. It’s been a hundred years since the junction of the two seasons has been so close, and it won’t happen again this century. It helps us see the connection between the two seasons very clearly, for at the heart of the feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, Candlemas, is a pointer to Holy Week, Simeon’s prophecy to Mary:
‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’
The Church of England’s Common Worship provides an eucharistic preface for Candlemas which skilfully forges the link to Good Friday:
Destined for the falling and rising of many,
he was lifted high upon the cross
and a sword of sorrow pierced his mother’s heart
when by his sacrifice he made our peace with you.
But there is something more going on than just a foreshadowing of the passion in St Luke’s account of the encounter in the Temple. For Luke, Simeon and Anna are not just mouthpieces for prophecy: they are important people in their own right.
Think of what Luke tells us about Anna. She was “of great age”, 84 years (which might not seem such a great age these days) “She never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day.” Now Anna wasn’t in the Temple because Jerusalem lacked day centres for widowed pensioners; she wasn’t in the Temple as a hobby. She was there because she expected to see God do something. She was there because she sought to understand something: she was “looking for the redemption of Jerusalem”. In other words; why was the world the way it was, and how was God going to make it better. And Anna knew, Luke tells us, the best way to understand the world as it really is, the best way to see the world from God’s point of view, is to worship him.
Think of what Luke tells us about Simeon. Simeon, despite being “righteous and devout” didn’t live in the temple night and day; instead he allowed the Temple to live in him. As Luke tells us, the presence of God, the Holy Spirit, rested on Simeon, and it was the Holy Spirit who had revealed to him that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah, and it was the Holy Spirit who guided him into the Temple that day to see Mary and Joseph and the infant Messiah.
The glory of God, which until that moment, had remained protected and hidden in the Temple, within the Holy of Holies, had come upon a man, righteous and devout to be true, but a man no less. And because Simeon had said “yes” to the Holy Spirit he was able to recognise the working of the Holy Spirit in the “yes” of Mary.
Two important ideas for us to take with us as we leave Christmas behind, and travel towards Holy Week. Like Simeon if we are prepared to say “yes” to the Holy Spirit, and then we will see God’s promises fulfilled. Like Anna, if we are prepared to worship God, then we will understand the ways and purposes of God; we will see the redemption of Jerusalem.